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With the NFC North title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs wrapped up, it’s uncertain how many Chicago Bears starters will play Sunday when the team visits the lowly Detroit Lions. There’s no doubt, however, that defensive tackle Tank Johnson won’t be on the field.
With Johnson suspended after encountering more off-the-field problems, Chicago (12-2) looks to find a balance between getting rest and avoiding injuries to its other key players, while also maintaining its momentum as it plays out the final two games before the postseason.
Johnson was suspended Tuesday for one game and will miss his second straight contest Sunday after two brushes with trouble last week. Last Thursday, he was arrested for the third time in 18 months, his second arrest on misdemeanor weapons charges in that span.
The next night, Johnson was at a bar when a friend was shot to death. Johnson is not a suspect in the death, but the Bears penalized him for being at the club.
Johnson will remain with the team and be able to play when Chicago closes out the regular season against Green Bay on Dec. 31.
“Collectively, as an organization—ownership, coaches, players, myself— we all agreed that the right thing to do was to keep Tank and keep working with him,” general manager Jerry Angelo said Tuesday.
“We know we’re vulnerable going forward. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m 100 percent on board and trust all the things that we’ve talked to Tank about.”
The third-year player has 24 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks this season. Johnson apologized for the latest run-in with the law and said he would seek counseling.
The absence of Johnson, who wasn’t active last week, hurt as Chicago’s defense tired in the fourth quarter and allowed 21 points, forcing the Bears to go to overtime to defeat Tampa Bay 34-31.
Chicago allowed only 57 yards rushing after yielding 291 in the previous two games, but managed only two sacks. Tampa Bay erased a 24-10 deficit after three quarters to force the extra period.
The Bears also played without starting cornerback Nathan Vasher (hamstring) and safety Todd Johnson (ankle). Both are questionable for Sunday, along with running back Thomas Jones and cornerback Charles Tillman.
While the Bears want to get their players healthy, they also want to avoid a repeat of last season, when they clinched the division in Week 16 and then rested or only briefly played most of the starters in a 34-10 defeat to Minnesota in the finale. After a playoff bye, the Bears lost 29-21 at home to Carolina in an NFC divisional playoff game.
“I think it’s important for our whole team to end on a high note and get some momentum,” said quarterback Rex Grossman, named the NFC offensive player of the week after going 29-for-44 for 339 yards and two touchdowns against the Bucs. “I expect to play the whole game the next two weeks. We want to do everything we can to be ready for that first playoff game.”
Despite the strong performance, Grossman could still give way to Brian Griese at some point Sunday. Grossman has played well in his last two games, throwing for 539 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions after throwing for 210 yards with no touchdowns and six interceptions in his previous two contests.
In Chicago’s 34-7 win over Detroit on Sept. 7, Grossman was 20-for-27 for 289 yards and four TDs.
The Lions (2-12) will have a losing record for the sixth straight season and are tied with Oakland for the worst record in the NFL.
Detroit suffered its sixth straight loss Sunday, 17-9 at Green Bay. The Lions, who haven’t won since Nov. 5, will be looking to snap a three-game losing streak at Ford Field.
The Lions have 14 players on injured reserve, including defensive tackle Marcus Bell and guard Barry Stokes, who went on this week. Key players like running back Kevin Jones and defensive lineman Shaun Rogers are also part of that group.
The Lions had a season-low 142 yards of total offense against Green Bay, and quarterback Jon Kitna led the team in rushing with 34 yards on seven carries.
Kitna was 16-for-26 for 135 yards and two interceptions, and has thrown four touchdowns and 11 interceptions during the six-game skid. Kitna, who threw 10 touchdowns in his first eight games, leads the NFL with 21 interceptions.
Despite their offensive struggles last week, the Lions trailed 10-9 in the fourth quarter before the Packers scored with less than three minutes to play.
“The effort and the energy was there, the execution was not,” Lions coach Rod Marinelli said. “It was not good enough.”
Chicago is looking for its fourth straight win over Detroit after losing the three previous meetings between the teams.